Every state prison inmate and employee will be tested for COVID-19 starting the end of next week, Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.

Testing will be be done using the quick saliva test developed by Rutgers University and produces a result within 24 hours.

Separate shelter for quarantine will also be provided for Department of Corrections staff who have been exposed to the virus and test positive.

"Through Commissioner Marcus Hicks and his team, preparations have been made for the proper response to testing outcomes. The overriding principal remains to protect people's health and allow for the necessary medical separation for those who do test positive while ensuring the safe operation of our facilities," Murphy said.

The Department of Corrections reported 518 employees and 153 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. The virus has killed 29 inmates.

"The union appreciates Commissioner Hicks advocating for the testing facilities for the officers and inmates to help stop the spread and to quarantine the offiers that may be positive not knowingly to help mitigate this disease," NJ PBA Local 105 president William Sullivan told New Jersey 101.5.

"It was a long time coming and long overdue. We're glad it's finally happening and I hope it's not too late," Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the officers as well as all prison staff will be tested multiple times at later dates to make sure they have not been exposed through future interactions.

Inmates who are being furloughed will be tested before leaving the prison.

Prisoners being housed at halfway houses during the pandemic will return to their home facility for testing and then returned, according to Sullivan.

County prisons are not included in the testing, according to Sullivan, who said only Essex County has tested its jail workers.

Sullivan is especially happy for the testing because of a corrections officer he said tested positive and exposed his pregnant wife, who also tested positive. The officer was on a ventilator when she delivered the child. The newborn was taken away to a special unit and the parents have not yet held their child.

NJ PBA President Patrick Colligan said eight police officers have died from COVID-19. Two state correctional police officers and a nurse at the Hudson County Jail died.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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